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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Utility Can’t Dodge Environmental Suit

(CN) - The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority cannot dismiss Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future's claim that a $15 million Corbett-funded redevelopment project violates the Clean Water Act, a federal judge ruled.

The lawsuit stems from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's September 2004 decision to issue a permit to Pittsburgh and its Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA), authorizing the discharge of stormwater from small municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) into the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers.

Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization based in Harrisburg, Pa., says the permit was issued under the provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law.

It further says Pittsburgh enacted ordinances to comply with the permit in 2007 and 2010, requiring that a stormwater management site plan be submitted for any publicly funded development or redevelopment project.

But when it came to a Buncher Co. real estate development project near the Allegheny River which received a $15 million assistance grant from Gov. Tom Corbett, PennFuture complains that Pittsburgh failed to submit such a plan.

After PennFuture notified Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to file a citizen suit in April 2012, Buncher submitted a site plan to the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority for the aforementioned project.

Pittsburgh approved the site plan as consistent with the city's stormwater management regulations on May 3, according to PennFuture.

However, the nonprofit claims that in June 2012 it sent Pittsburgh an expert report of the site plan's failure to comply with permit ordinances, requested the withdrawal or suspension of the May 3 consistency letter, and asked for a meeting with the city and Buncher to resolve the issues.

PennFuture says Pittsburgh has neither withdrawn nor suspended the consistency letter, and the city declined to arrange a meeting with all parties to discuss the matter.

PennFuture sued Pittsburgh for violating the Clean Water Act and Clean Streams Law.

Pittsburgh filed an answer and affirmative defenses to the complaint, whereas the Water & Sewer Authority moved to dismiss.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell denied the motion on Monday.

"Under federal regulations governing NPDES permits for stormwater discharges from small Ms4s, entities may jointly apply to be co-permittees under an individual permit, as occurred here," the judge wrote. "Significantly, co-permittees may be held jointly and severally responsible for compliance with a permit."

Mitchell tossed aside the Water & Sewer Authority's argument that it is not required to review site plans, as it is the city's responsibility to do so.

"If one co-permittee fails to comply with its permit requirements, both co-permittees may be responsible for that failure," the seven-page opinion states.

"Accepting as true the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, PennFuture has stated a plausible claim for relief against PWSA," the judge concluded.

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